Christianity 201

January 9, 2023

Justifying Placing Self-Interest Above God’s Work

Today I am really seriously breaking our six-month rule, because of this excellent article by Doug Eaton at his blog Flight of Faith.  Doug is the Executive Director of Admissions for Trinity International University, which consists of four schools: Trinity College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Trinity Law School, and Trinity Graduate School. Clicking the title below will take you to where this first appeared earlier today.

Misreading Providence for Personal Gain

Matthew Henry once suggested we can sometimes neglect to obey God because we misinterpret trials and challenges as if they are permission to shirk our responsibility when, instead, God allowed these hardships to test and exercise our courage and faith. Let me give you an example.

Imagine you are a pastor the Holy Spirit has called to preach the whole counsel of God. As you are expositing a book of scripture over several months, you come to a difficult passage that goes against the cultural zeitgeist. Not only does the culture not want you to speak the truth plainly, but some church elders also start to counsel you against it.

Your church and ministry have a large online following, and to preach these truths and post them in the usual outlets could lead to big tech taking away your platforms. This conflict with big tech could arise because this teaching of scripture violates their standards of conduct.

The church’s ministry is doing wonderful things, reaching hundreds of thousands of people. You begin to rationalize that it is better to bypass this passage or gloss over it because the benefits of doing so far outweigh the costs for your ministry. Not to mention, scripture calls you to listen to the counsel of the elders. Ultimately, you use YouTube and social media’s standards of conduct to discharge yourself from your duty.

Similarly, Israel once misinterpreted opposition as a reason to neglect their duty to God. They had returned from captivity, set up an altar, and laid the foundation for the temple. God had told them to build it, but a legal prohibition was issued, which stopped the work.

Instead of continuing, the leaders misread providence and said, “God must not want us to build it right now. The time has not yet come” (Haggai 1:2). However, something selfish burned in them and helped them make this decision. They preferred to focus on building their own homes first.

God speaks to them through the prophet Haggai and says, in essence, “Why are you focusing on yourselves and your fancy houses when the House of God lies in ruins” (Haggai 1:4). The Lord pointed out to them that they were left empty because they neglected God and focused on themselves (Haggai 1:9). They were unsatisfied no matter how much they had worked to please themselves.

Jesus told us to seek first the Kingdom of God, and the rest would be added (Matthew 6:33). There are no exemptions to this. Even if life has you busy with your job, family, school, or other pressures, these things never exempt us from our duty (and pleasure) to seek God first. Misreading providence for personal gain never works because the personal gain never comes.

Putting self first always leads to discontentment. Instead of seeing these providences as reasons to put ourselves first, we should view them as trials and tests God has given us to prove that the faith he has provided us has the power to overcome the world.


Second Helping: Read another devotional post and watch a 3-minute excerpt of Doug Eaton teaching on The War Against Your Soul.

December 29, 2022

The Fruit of the Spirit Goes Beyond Doctrines, Ethics

CEB.Gal.6.22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.

In an information age, much emphasis is placed on holding to correct doctrine. Heresy hunters, fact checkers, and watchdog ministries are in abundance, making sure that people are held to a standard of orthodoxy. Research organizations (like Barna and Pew) have checklists of beliefs if one is to considered a Christian or an Evangelical.

Additionally, many passages of Christians (i.e. most of Galatians) are written to combat the era of “false teachers” which was already a problem for the early church. So it’s safe for us to conclude that holding to accurate beliefs is of utmost importance, especially in a world where sects, isms, cults, etc. proliferate online and in our communities.

Beyond orthodoxy however, there is also orthopraxy. If the former is defined as “right beliefs,” then the second might be defined as “right practices;” though it goes beyond spiritual practices and involves all that we do as followers of Christ.

One writer, Liv Walton, defined the two here in a June, 2021 blog post:

Orthodoxy is most simply defined as “right belief,” which consists of authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine or practice. Orthodoxy is held with great importance in the Protestant-Christian church and other branches of Christianity such as Catholicism. While Protestant-Christians do not contend that salvation is found through doctrine nor practice, having faith is not enough to qualify “right belief.” …

Orthopraxy is defined as “right practice” yet this idea of practice is not about practicing right doctrine. Rather, when orthopraxy talks about practice, it is talking about gospel living. Instead of focusing solely on saying and doing the right things, one should focus on the holistic message of the gospel, which is to love God and love others. Additionally, orthopraxy puts emphasis on liturgy (worship) that extends beyond Sunday services.

When incorporating orthopraxy, one’s faith becomes a testament to God’s love and puts every individual on the same level. Christianity is not about who can serve the most at church or witness to the most people, but rather how one can love those around them in a way that edifies and uplifts others as fellow image-bearers…

The Bible’s “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13 has this short prologue:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

But some have argued that understanding “religion” is to incorporate a third dimension that might be termed orthopathy. (Immediately, my spell-check is concerned that this word is not in its dictionary! I find it interesting that although I’ve heard this discussed, I can’t find a single instance in an online search.)

The idea is that faith is found not only in

doctrine + ethics

but rather

doctrine + ethics + experience

In other words, by “believing right things” and “doing right things” what is the result of that in your life? How is your life different because of the beliefs you have put into practice?

So when Paul says that love is the means by which everyone will know we are Christ’s disciples, he is referring to ethics. But how do the other fruit of the spirit match up:

  1. Love = expressed in action, ethics
  2. Joy = an inner quality of life, therefore it is experienced
  3. Peace = an inner experience as well
  4. Patience = a trait which will express itself both internally, and in our dealings with others, therefore it lands in both categories
  5. Kindness = expressed in action, ethics
  6. Goodness = expressed in action, ethics; though sometimes we will do “the good” and it will never be seen; Jesus cautions us in all these not to practice such things in order to gain recognition
  7. Faithfulness = seen in our doctrine and ethics, including our faithfulness to the pursuit of right doctrine. This one hints more directly of the spiritual disciplines.
  8. Meekness = an internal culture of humility that will be expressed in our dealing with others
  9. Self Control = again, an inner quality with an outward, visible expression

Some alternative scriptures for each of these, beyond the passage in Galatians where they are listed, can be found here in a May, 2014 article.

So we see in the above list that some things like joy and peace — while they have an outward visible component like self-control — are part of our inner experience.

Liv Walton concluded,

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not meant to stand alone. When one places all emphasis on orthodoxy, servitude becomes a false idol; and, when all the emphasis is on orthopraxy, the body of Christ and important practices such as communion can more easily be lost. However, when a balance of both is reached, believers are able to look at the world with more love.

So back to orthopathy. If you’ve been reading Christian authors, you know the important principle that our faith in Christ is anchored on the trust we have in his promises, not feelings. But we can expect an inner confirmation of his indwelling presence in our lives that is significant enough that it doesn’t fit the doctrine/ethics categories.

There is an inner confession we have, which although subject, leaves us knowing that our spirit has found what it’s looking for, we have the peace of God that exceeds human understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

October 25, 2022

Humility in an Age of Embellishment

The verse this morning on my NIV Bible app was Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you will be your servant.

What was Jesus saying here? He’s trying to tell the disciples to not seek titles or positions. Two verses back he says, “And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father.” v9, NLT and then in the following verse we read, “You are not to be called instructors either, because you have one Instructor, the Messiah.” v10 CSB.

Which brings us to our key verse. BibleHub has something called the Worsley New Testament, which renders this as, “But let him that is greatest among you be your minister: and whosoever will exalt himself shall be abased.”

Finally in verse 12, he clarifies again with a verse which ought to be familiar to you,

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

At risk of quoting the “Philippian Hymn” one time too many — it’s a favorite passage of mine — the preamble contains this in verse 3 of chapter 2 of Philippians, which I cite from one of BibleHub’s highlighted versions, the Berean Standard Bible:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves.

…Just two days before, the same Bible app opened my day with James 4:6

And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (NLT)

I began to think about how these words on humility might land. Most of us would say we live ‘average’ lives. We’re not expecting anyone to write a book about our lives, either now or when we’re gone. We might never have that “15 minutes of fame” that Andy Warhol thought would be common experience.

We have no problem attaining humility; circumstances have done that for us.

And yet…

We live at a time where social media often compels people to present an online persona which is perhaps more colorful than our daily reality.

What’s really interesting about this is that at least three of the dominant social media platforms right now are image-oriented; dependent on there being media; requiring that each post have a photo or video. And as everyone knows the saying, “The camera never lies.”

But we actually live at a time when that old adage isn’t true.

Photoshop allows you to make major changes to pictures. But you don’t need Photoshop. Two weeks ago I joined a church group on a fall hike in the woods. My wife posted a picture, but I thought it would look better cropped, so I posted a cropped version of it and added some contrast. Then someone else put it through a filter so that the fall leaves — which hadn’t fully arrived at that point — were given some added red and orange to make it look like a more seasonal fall scene.

But that picture lied. The trees on the right side were green at that point; in fact, I think one of them was an evergreen anyway. It would never have fall leaves!

We live at a time when anyone can make everything from their vacations to their boring, everyday lives look more enticing and more beautiful. And I gotta admit that a vacation picture of frustrated people in an airport missing a connection isn’t all that engaging. And I would choose the picture of the kids at home hugging the dog than the picture of the dog throwing up on the couch moments later.

The reason we want social media to show what Hollywood stars called their “good side,” is because everyone else does this. It’s another way that Christians can find themselves conforming to the culture.

There’s a type of humor called “self-deprecating.” The writer or speaker is putting themselves down. It can be quite funny, and it does create a level playing field between writer/speaker and audience, though it can have its own issues.

That’s not what I’m recommending here. That can lead to something called ‘false humility.’

I think the principle we need to apply is honesty. Where this is honesty, humility will naturally follow.


But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken!   Jeremiah 9:24 NLT

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names stand written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 NET

 

 

 

 

 

October 13, 2022

Thank God for the Generosity of God!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Thank God for the generosity of God! Where would we be without it? Where would we be without the generosity of God as expressed in the creation of the universe, the creation of a life permitting world, the gift of life, the gift of water and weather systems to supply the water, the gift of food and eco-systems to supply the food, the gift of bodies that know what to do with water and food, the gift of family, friends, and relationships, the gift of communication, language, intellect, and so much more. We are only scratching the surface of all that we can be grateful for, and yet we are only one chapter into the Bible. Thank God for the generosity of God as expressed in creation.

Let us go further into the Bible as we consider the generosity of God:

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:8-9 (NRSV)

In what way was Jesus rich when carpenters would hardly amass great wealth in that day? Jesus was rich, not by trade or earthly inheritance, but by identity as God. We can think of what Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

The generous act of Jesus, in becoming poor though rich, was really the expression of the generosity of God. This is not just one generous act of God among many, this reveals the generous character of God. Generosity is a character trait of God. Generosity is expressed in everything God does. Thank God for the generosity of God!

Being followers of Jesus, we want to become more like Jesus. This means developing in generosity, not just as something we do from time to time in generous acts, but as a character trait, something that is expressed in everything we do.

This brings us in our current series to our next “cultural statement” from Open Table Communities, statements that are good not only for a sister faith community like OTC, but also for an old fashioned kind of church like we are at Calvary Baptist:

A Culture of Generosity
We nurture a practice of giving and blessing others and sharing the resources we have with those who do not have. We view generosity as an act of resistance against greed and systems of exploitation. We learn to hold a generous posture with our ears for listening, our questions for understanding and our words for sharing our stories, perspectives and lived experience.

Open Table Communities

When we speak about generosity in church circles, we tend to focus on generosity in treasures, talents, and time. Why do we pastor/preacher-types normally focus on those? I think it is because these things impact the life of the congregation as an organization. When people here at Calvary, for example, give financially, get involved according to their gifts and abilities, and give of their time to the work being done at Calvary, they are helping us do collectively what we believe we are called to do, namely helping people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. This kind of generosity helps the church grow and remain healthy. This is good, but generosity is not just about impact people can have on a church as an organization.

As we see in the cultural statement above, generosity modelled on Jesus is focused on the impact we can have on people and the world as we address lack and systems that create lack, namely the greed and exploitation that leads some people to poverty while leading others to wealth. It is also about impact on us as we are changed in our character when we take a posture like Jesus.

I recently finished listening to a podcast series called the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The lead pastor of the church known as Mars Hill is one year older than me and he became a pastor, in co-founding Mars Hill, one year before I became a pastor. Over the years I have gone from pastoring two very small churches, to pastoring one mall church, to pastoring one smallish church, to pastoring another smallish church. Meanwhile the pastor of Mars Hill led it to grow into a mega church with multiple locations and thousands involved. I imagine there was great leadership in getting people to be generous in giving of their treasures, talents, and time along the way, enabling this church to grow exponentially. However, as related in the podcast, there was at the core, systems of greed and exploitation. And now the church is no more. Many people were wounded along the way. Some fervent Christians walked away, not just from the church, but from Christianity. How things might have been different if Mars Hill had adopted this cultural statement on generosity, if it had developed a true culture of generosity, especially among the leadership.

When generosity is a character trait, we will be generous, not just in our treasures, talents, and time, but in anything and everything.

As expressed in the cultural statement, we will be generous in our listening. To be so means giving others the gift of time, quietness, attention, and understanding.

We will be generous in questions for understanding. We will seek to be understanding of others. We will seek to minimize misunderstandings. This means being generous in our desire to honor others and to hear clearly.

We will be generous in our words for sharing our stories, perspectives and lived experience. This requires a kind of self-confidence, that our stories, perspectives, and lived experiences are worth sharing. Generosity flows from abundance, and in this area we may convince ourselves that we are lacking, that our stories and our perspectives are not worth hearing, that our lives are not worth sharing. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.

But we can keep going, with generosity in anything and everything; generous in assuming the dignity of others, generous in giving people the benefit of the doubt, generous in offering forgiveness, generous in willingness to go deeper in relationship.

We began with thank God for the generosity of God. The generosity of God has had a huge impact on the world. We would not be here without it. We would not be anywhere. We would have no future without the generosity of God.

Thank God for the generosity of God, a character trait found expressed in creation, in Jesus, and in so much else. Are the people in our lives saying thank God for the generosity of God as expressed in us?


Clarke Dixon is, in case you missed it, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. His sermon summaries appear here most Thursdays. Read more at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

July 24, 2022

The Ministry of “Coming Alongside”

When my oldest son was doing a 4-month internship with Engineering Ministries International, he reminded us several times that they were “an adjunct ministry.” Their job was to work in the background for other Christian organizations (who they called the “client charities”) and it was those other organizations which received all the visibility. Engineering Ministries International has been involved in at least two thousand projects around the world, but you’ve probably never heard of them.

Another organization, Partners International, had some missions projects operating a few years ago that fell under the banner of “Alongside.” One was a water treatment plant in Africa started by my wife’s uncle. He had noticed that many organizations were raising money to install wells so Africans could have fresh water, but nobody was fixing the wells when they needed repairing. So he created his own “Alongside” project which led to the water treatment facility.

With that in mind, today I want to pick up where we left off yesterday. This devotional study originally appeared a decade ago under the title

Cooperating With What God is Already Doing

and has never been repeated here until now…

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

As an aside, I am reminded of the story of Elijah who goes into hiding, despite winning a huge victory against the prophets of Baal. He cries to God that he is “the only one left,” rattling off some stats about the remaining prophets of Baal, and at that moment, God throws out his own statistic:

NCV.1 Kings.19.8 I have seven thousand people left in Israel who have never bowed down before Baal and whose mouths have never kissed his idol.”

You can read our February, 2021 devotional about this narrative at this link.

Okay…let’s go back to the idea of feeling like you’re in a broken place where God doesn’t seem to be working.

I want to continue where we left off yesterday, and look at our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus.  In that devotional, we looked at being the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” and raises the possibility of this being a team approach. In I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do.6 I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow.7 So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?”

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who are given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

I once heard a pastor tell the story of a friend with whom he had been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. This pastor often jokes that this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy, you could say that this man was “his customer;” though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! More seriously, the pastor understood the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoiced that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

(If we keep the analogy going, the pastor gave the friend all the product knowledge, but his associate was the one closing the sale.)

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working.** Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

~ PW

**Experiencing God, pp. 54-55; p. 297

July 23, 2022

The Beautiful People Who Lay the Foundation for Evangelism

Could I have made that title any longer? Today and tomorrow I want to revisit some things we looked at here in 2012; two original devotional studies that have never, until now, been repeated. This devotional was originally titled

But Before That Can Happen, This Has to Happen

I know…equally long title!

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

From a purely literary standpoint, these verses in Romans use a rather unique form. It’s like Paul is deliberately saying everything in reverse, not unlike those comedies or dramas on television where they keep flashing back to progressively earlier and earlier scenes chronologically. In other words, before that can happen, this has to happen.

Having just proclaimed that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” in verse 13, the sequence looks like this:

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent

So before one thing can happen something else has to happen.  Let’s put things in chronological order:

  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

That in itself would be a sufficient meditation, but it leaves something else.  In every major English translation, one more verse is included in the same paragraph, which is a quotation from Isaiah 52.

Isaiah 52:How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Repeated here in Romans:

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love how the CEV put this:

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Now, I’m going to read something into the text here, but I want you to humor me by following along here.  I think the CEV accurately conveys the picture here of the beauty of the sight of someone coming to bring the good news. But let’s assume for just a moment the beauty of the person themselves who comes.  (Not, obviously physical beauty, but spiritual beauty.)

If everything in the text is in reverse order, and if every translator sees the quotation as very directly linked to the other phrases, then what appears in the original form,

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent
  • that “sent someone” is a beautiful person!!

Then the adjusted order would be

  • the process described here begins with a beautiful person!!
  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

Again, I’ve done some “reading into” on the text here, but it does give you a different way of looking at the passage, and it is supported by further study of what it is to be the man or woman who God chooses.  Those of you who object strongly can leave a comment with the more traditional interpretations of the Isaiah passage’s presence here.

But I think God is looking for a “special someone” to relay the message to people in need, and he’s looking for that someone to have a beautiful spirit.  In other words, before we can assume a ministry, we need to cultivate the character of Christ within.

Someone once said there are two dimensions to a physical cross, and we can think of the vertical dimension as the depth of our relationship to God, and the horizontal as the breadth of expressing that relationship to the world around us. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and God is responsible for the breadth of our ministry.

To get to be the sent one, to be the preacher, to see people respond and call out for salvation; all that has to begin with the formation of Christian character within.  You can’t expect to move in the gifts of the spirit until you have cultivated the fruit of the spirit.

~Paul Wilkinson

For some of you, the passage today reminded you of an older worship song; so here’s a link to Our God Reigns.

 

 

June 2, 2022

The People We Christians Have the Hardest Time Loving

Longtime regular Thursday devotional columnist Clarke Dixon has been granted a sabbatical by his church this summer. We look forward to his return in September.

Thinking Through John 13:34-35

by Clarke Dixon

There is a group of people that throughout history Christians have had great difficulty loving. We Christians have shunned them, demonized them, jailed them, and have even put them to death. In our day common notions of decency do not keep us from being on the attack, in books and over the internet, through social media, in blogs, podcasts, and in chat forums.

What is that one group? It is the group Jesus speaks about in John 13:34,35:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:34-35 (NLT)

The group we Christians have the hardest time loving? Other Christians.

We have a long history of not treating Christians who think differently from us well. We have hated, feared, mistreated, maligned, and tried to destroy one another.

Loving one another is super-important!

Jesus gave the disciples a kind of “pep talk” at the Last Supper. Jesus had spent three years with his disciples and was now preparing them to be a Jesus following community without him, at least without him in the way they had become accustomed to. First thing out of the gate? Love each other!

Why is loving one another so important?

If we can’t love one another, then how can we expect people to take seriously our good news message of love? Jesus said love for each other would prove that the disciples really were his followers. It is interesting that though Jesus taught and modeled love for all people, including those on the fringes of society, and even including one’s enemies, it is love for one another that is evidence of being a Jesus follower.

A watching world will not be impressed by our lack of love for each other. We Christians can do all kinds of loving things in the world and for the world, but when we don’t love one another, our message that God’s love changes everything, is lost.

What does loving one another look like in our day?

There is the idea that if you love someone you will rescue them from their wrong thinking. Loving one another therefore means fixing other Christians, pointing out their errors.

There are two problems with this.

First, Christians are not cars that can simply be fixed. They are people, with history, experiences, and reasons why they think the way they do.

Second, the Bible is not like the Haynes repair manual I have for my motorcycle, with step-by-step instructions and photographs to make everything as clear as possible. The Bible is brilliant, but convoluted. The Bible is sometimes hard to understand, and it is sometimes easy to misunderstand.

There is a better path forward than trying to fix one another.

Loving one another means having conversations with one another.

Conversation means talking with and to one another rafter than talking about one another. In our day there is so much talking about one another in books, on social media, podcasts, blogs, and perhaps worst of all, online comments.

Conversation means listening as well as speaking. Listening is an important part of love. We each have our blind spots that others may be able to speak to. We each believe things and hold to things that may cause harm if we are not aware. Blind spots are nasty that way.

Conversation means seeking truth together. Author Soong-Chan Rah has written an article about the difference between truth possessed and truth pursued. Truth possessed can be summed up as “I know the truth and everyone should listen to me.” Truth pursued can be summed up as “there is such a thing as truth and let’s work together on finding it.”

Loving one another means learning the skill of disagreeing with one another without dismissing or demonizing one another.

It means learning to disagree with others while honouring them for doing their best to honor God. Those who think differently than we do may never have been exposed to reasons to think otherwise. They might be doing the best they can. Maybe the blind spot is ours and we are the ones who need to rethink things. Humble people are listeners.

Loving one another means taking a posture of gentleness toward one another.

Gentleness might be the most neglected fruit of the Spirit in our day.

If everyone around the world learned gentleness, wars would cease, and wars would cease to begin. Imagine too, if people would be gentle with themselves. Therapists may find they have more free time.

We can not, of course, make that happen, but we can model gentleness in our own lives, in the life of our our own church family, and in our own family of churches.

You may think differently about many issues and theological ideas than I do. I will be gentle with you. Will you be gentle with me?

But isn’t diversity of thinking among Christians a problem? Don’t we need to get everyone on the same page?

I have heard it said that we have a diversity problem in our day in the convention of churches within which I serve. It has been said that our tent is too big as a Baptist Convention.

I don’t think we have a diversity problem. We have a diversity opportunity.

We have the opportunity to demonstrate to a polarized world, how to live in a polarized world. It is through loving one another. It is through conversation, speaking and listening, talking with and to rather than about, disagreeing without dismissing or demonizing, and through being gentle.

When we allow our differences to become reasons for erecting walls and starting wars we are reflecting the world’s ways, not the way of Jesus.

We Christians have had a hard time loving one another. Jesus said we must do it. So let’s do it.

 

April 1, 2022

Christianity 201 12th Birthday | The Fruit of Wisdom

It’s Our Birthday!

I never expected when I started this that we would still be posting devotionals every afternoon at around 5:30 Eastern Time, seven days a week, 12 months of the year. Faithfulness to this and stewardship of the site has meant things like arranging for a series of things to be posted when we would be on holidays, and has meant building margin into my schedule for days when I knew that the devotional could have easily been crowded out by other activities. Some days, like yesterday, the WordPress “publish” button doesn’t get pushed until it’s already 5:30 PM.

It’s also been a matter of keeping some balance, both in the type of writers we feature (their doctrine, denomination) and the subject matters. I know for example that not everyone is married with children, but the scripture teaching on marriage and parenting can have valuable broader application for all of us. (Parenting being obvious, as God, our Father, parents us.)

Then there are the quotations. You can find collections online for hundreds of Christian authors, but I’ve been selective here in choosing a few key authors that I felt led to present, and also a certain type of quotation from each of them that befits the readership here.

I could not celebrate twelve years without thanking Clarke Dixon for his weekly contribution every Thursday which is always a perfect fit. Clarke and I got to spend an hour together yesterday for the first time in ages, and I do appreciate his friendship. I wanted to list some of the other frequently recurring writers here, but I knew that I would leave someone out. However I want to mention Kevin Rogers who has been featured here for a long time, and Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who, while I don’t get to read Daily Encouragement as often as I once did, have always been a source of inspiration and … encouragement!

After thinking about what we could present today, it occurred to me that the best thing I could do is to do what we do best, so here’s today’s devotional.

The Fruit of Wisdom

NIV.James.3.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

The list before us is, I believe, both characteristics of wisdom itself, and of those who seek and manifest wisdom in their daily living.  The first verse appeared earlier this week on my NIV Bible App, but I decided to include verse 18 in light of what follows.

The first thing I noticed was how certain characteristics here overlap the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. When I read “submissive” it reminded me of the overlap with the characteristics in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.”  (Several translations have submissive as “open to reason.) The list may also remind you of the character traits in the “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s also reminiscent of the qualities Paul prays for the Colossian church to have in Colossians 1: 9-14.

But here we have not Jesus, not the Apostle Paul, but James reiterating a similar type of character checklist. (You’d almost think these personal qualities were important or something!) But James is speaking with respect to wisdom and this is an important distinction.

We often conflate wisdom with knowledge. I have to admit this is a real challenge for me personally. I gravitate to teachers whose sermons contain a lot of information. I don’t necessarily retain it all, but I’m challenged by it, especially in the context of the conclusions they reach at the end of their teaching. I love bullet points, and alliterative outlines, and infographics, and those little laminated pamphlets published by Rose Publishing which reduce major topics in Christian history and doctrine to their essential points.

Because of this, when we started Christianity 201, I tended to eschew devotionals which relied heavily on stores about a little boy and his dog, a person looking for a parking spot, a disobedient child, a rainbow appearing after a rainstorm. You get the idea. Privately, I tended to avoid sermons by preachers who feel the need to open with a personal anecdote from the previous week; I like the ones who just say, “Take your Bible and turn to the Book of  _________ …” and then start teaching.

But we don’t necessarily Jesus giving a treatise on advanced doctrinal concepts. There’s nothing close to an outline in systematic theology. Instead, we see, as Clarke reminded us yesterday, stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son (or two lost sons). And the lost son story in particular is beyond human imagination in the different ways we can learn from it.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t give us summary teachings on his theological outlook, as much as he invites us to surmise his theology from the illustrations. He invites us to work it out. (Perhaps with fear and trembling?)

And so, to go back to James’ epistle, while knowledge can be amassed and stored and retrieved as needed, true wisdom is going to produce change in us. It’s going to bring about transformation. To repeat one more time, information (knowledge) is not wisdom.

When we seek spiritual wisdom, what James calls “the wisdom from above” we are asking God to shape us, form us, change us.

… For those of you who’ve been on this ride for a longer time, I hope the twelve years of Christianity 201 has blessed you, and tomorrow we’ll be back with more.

 

February 8, 2022

Making a Spiritual Checklist, and Checking it Twice

We’re breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who faithfully write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net from their beautiful home in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania where, alongside editing and preparing weekday devotions like this one, they are in full time workplace chaplaincy ministry.

Click the header below to read this where it originated and you might find yourself clicking “previous message” or “next message” to read more!

Taking Spiritual Inventory

Message summary: Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28a). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Randy is an inventory control specialist we see at a company that is a wholesale distributor of car wash supplies. The other day I was inquiring about his job and he told me, “I just love inventory”. Now in this day with so much laxness in regard to a solid work ethic his enthusiastic assessment of his job is heartening.

An inventory control specialist tracks inventory and stock changes. Responsibilities include overseeing inventory control, managing deliveries, inspecting inventory, maintaining inventory records, and ordering products. For a well run business it is an essential and very important job. But it’s a good thing that God made people with different gifts and interests because I can’t see myself saying, “I just love inventory”!

But Randy’s comment also prompted me to consider the vital importance of taking personal inventory of our own lives. That’s not something we necessarily enjoy, but it is beneficial since it shines the light on what really matters and that which we need to lay aside and the sin that might easily entangles that keeps us from running with endurance the race that is set before us. (See Hebrews 12)

In taking personal inventory we must reflect inwardly and take stock of our lives. Personal inventory can apply to our health, finances, family, goals and many other areas of life. But today let us consider a spiritual inventory, a self examination of the most important aspect of who we are.

“But let a man examine himself.” Today’s first Scripture verse is in the context of partaking of Communion at the Lord’s Table. Before one eats and drinks of the emblems representing the broken Body and shed blood of Christ he is instructed to “examine himself”. Of utmost importance in this personal spiritual exam is the answer to these foundational questions:

* “Do I have saving faith in Christ?” (Romans 10:8,9).
* “Do I have unconfessed sin in my heart?” (1 John 1:9).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” In the second text Paul uses two words (“examine” and “test”) to emphasize his point. “Examine” is the Greek “peirazo” which conveys the sense “to scrutinize”. “Test” (“prove” KJV) is the Greek “dokimazo” which has the sense of discernment.  It implies the expectation of approval and is thus a very positive function. We need to regularly (I believe daily) examine and test our spiritual walk. Let’s confess sin, express faith, and practice obedience daily.

This vitally important exam asks this question, “to see whether you are in the faith”. Then there’s a sobering follow-up question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

In his article “The Place Of Self-examination” Bible teacher S. Lewis Johnson comments concerning this verse:

“There are literally millions of professing Christians who need to pay attention to this statement of the apostle. They have entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, they’ve joined the church, they’ve been baptized or they’ve done other things that might make them think that they are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been encouraged to think that, by men who’ve not been careful to point out that, there is more to becoming a Christian than subscribing to a statement. They don’t hate sin. They don’t love holiness. They do not pray. They do not study the word of God. They do not walk humbly with God. These individuals, so many of them stand in the same danger in which the Corinthians stood. And the apostle’s words, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves,” are valid words that each of us should ponder.”

Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

Colossians 1:10-12 provides a list of examination items for our consideration. We will phrase them as personal questions:

* Am I living in a manner worthy of the Lord?
* Am I pleasing Him in all respects?
* Am I bearing fruit in every good work?
* Am I increasing in the knowledge of God?
* Am I being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might?
* Am I attaining steadfastness and patience?
* Am I joyously giving thanks to the Father?

Daily prayer: Father, I ask myself, “Am I living in a manner worthy of Your name? Do I seek to please You rather than myself? Does the fruit of my labor reflect the Spirit of Christ living within my heart? Do I have a zeal for the things of Christ and a desire to know Him better, to reflect His character every day in my life? Am I steady or do I sputter in my Christian influence?” Father, in all these things I want to be more like Christ, consistent in the ways that bring glory to Your name and growth in my spiritual nature. I want my spiritual walk to be the most important pursuit of my life as I journey here below so that I may influence as many as possible to live for Jesus, for it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

January 7, 2022

Romans 12 as a List

Years ago I sat in a youth rally where a popular national speaker had been flown in to share his personal story and a challenge to the high school and college age students.

At one point he said, “Some say that Christianity is a list of don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But Christianity is a list of ‘dos’ and if you do the ‘dos’ you don’t have time to do the don’ts.”

Okay. I think there might have been applause at that point. Here was Christian living in a nutshell: Stay busy and you won’t sin.

But yesterday in my reading I came across such a list of ‘dos.’ Romans 12 starts out with the familiar words,

NIV.Rom.12.1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Then in verses 3-8, there is a short teaching on spiritual gifts, the ones mentioned being prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement,  giving, leadership, and showing mercy.

He then shares an ethic of Christian living. It’s interesting that this falls right after listing spiritual gifts, just as in I Corinthians, chapter 12 (and chapter 14) deal with spiritual gifts, but the “love chapter” presents the model ethics and character of the Christ-follower.

To be fair, the special speaker of my youth might have mentioned that there are indeed some ‘don’ts’ in the Bible, and frankly, it would have also been great if he had mentioned some of the ‘dos’ instead of moving on to the next punchline.

Even in Romans 12 we have:

  • [Do not] be lacking in zeal
  • Do not curse
  • Do not be proud
  • Do not be conceited
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not take revenge
  • Do not be overcome by evil

but in the interest of “doing the ‘do‘s'” here is the text of the prescriptive phrases in this part of Romans 12. I’ve capitalized each one, and I’ve left the verse numbers in, but left the ellipses out to make it more readable

9b Cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
11b  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope,
[Be] patient in affliction,
[Be] faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
14a Bless those who persecute you
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice
Mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another.
Be willing to associate with people of low position.
17Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19b Leave room for God’s wrath
21 Overcome evil with good.

There are 18 “dos” in the section and only 7 “don’ts.” When you read the list, you can see how doing these things involves a life of sacrifice, and probably a good place to repeat the opening instruction from verse 1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

That spirit of sacrificial living is going to be necessary to what he next says. In the first 7 verses of chapter 13, he talks about being submissive to governmental authorities. Not easy in his day. Not always easy in ours.

I’d encourage you read chapters 13-15, and to make it easy, here’s a single link to all 3 chapters. The minutes you spend reading them is more time you won’t have to “do the ‘don’ts.'”

February 22, 2021

Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
(NIV)

dollar signNot wanting to overstate this, but in the past year we’ve watched as people who were stewards of ministry organizations, including those responsible for the finances of those same organizations, have proved themselves to be less than good stewards of what well-meaning donors had entrusted to them. Some have shown themselves, in their other endeavors to be “pursuing dishonest gain.”

This should not be. The ESV version of today’s verse says, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

When found out, we sometimes expect God will just step in and seize control of the situation, but sometimes he allows things to go unchecked. One of the more interesting articles here at C201 is a 2014 one called “Why Did Jesus Allow Judas to Manage the Petty Cash?” Matt Perman wrote,

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

But then goes further,

…If it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

(Now you want to read the whole article, right?)

While we’re reminiscing about previous articles, a 2013 article from (re)Versing Verses which we called “Two Different Measures” looked at this verse:

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 25:15 NIV

and noted:

The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call. (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.” Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36 also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt“) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

A 2015 C201 post, “Proverbs on Poverty…and Riches” contained a number of scriptures on this (unfortunately without references) and ended with this one:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

So while we may have determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

…each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

January 7, 2021

Before He Wants us to Do, God Wants Us to Be

NIV.James.3.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

NIV.Phil.1.15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16a The latter do so out of love…

NIV.Rom.12.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Today we’re paying a return visit to The Lion’s Head Café. This is an article written by the proprietor of the site, Terry Everroad. Click the header below to read it there.

How Do You Bear Fruit?

In the year of our conversion, Esa and I worked at a radio station where I was part owner and manager. She was an announcer and salesperson. The local chapter of the American Cancer Society asked if our station would help raise money in their annual fundraiser held in cities all across the state. Esa had the idea of producing a festival on the county fairgrounds with contests and games and musicians, singers and dancers. It was a huge success and we raised more money than any other chapter in the state and we lived in a town of fewer than 5,000 people. We did a really good thing for the Cancer Society and for the community.

But our motives were selfish. We wanted everyone to know what a wonderful thing we did. It was all about us. We didn’t really care much about cancer victims. We wanted public recognition. We were new in the Lord and wanted to do something good so we would be admired.

Jesus speaks many times in the Gospel of John about bearing fruit. He says, “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing (John 15).” It could be easy to think he means we should do something spiritual like exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Doing good things sounds honorable but that’s not what he’s talking about here. God’s ways are higher than ours. Many times they are exactly opposite. We often think in terms of taking action and being productive in order to please God or to be rewarded. It’s the American way. We’re number one! But we can’t buy entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Then there’s also the matter of the first becoming last.

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us not to be deceived by false prophets. He says the way to do that is by taking note of their fruit. What kind of fruit is he talking about? Is it demonstrated in a notable ministry or building a successful business or being good at making money? Not at all. The Greek word for fruit is karpos and is predominately used in the New Testament figuratively and defined as “being the physical expression of power working inwardly and invisibly; the character of the fruit being evidence of the character of the power producing it.” (Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words)

Bearing fruit is not a performance-based activity. God first wants us to be so that what we do reflects who we are, that is, His children. As Paul says in Romans 8, “we are being conformed to the image of His son.” When we are shaped into that image, what we do doesn’t really matter because whatever we do is an expression of the kingdom. We live in Jesus and he in us. We are led by the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is a package deal: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). Being unfruitful is to lack these qualities. Instead of love, there is hate, instead of joy, sadness, instead of peace, strife, instead of longsuffering, irritation, instead of kindness, meanness, instead of goodness, vindictiveness, instead of faithfulness, carelessness, instead of gentleness, disrespect, instead of self-control, instability.

The fruit of the Spirit is a love package. You can’t have love and not have all the other qualities on the list. You can do a lot of good things, but they mean nothing if they’re not coming out of a genuine, heart-felt love for people, the good, the bad and the ugly. In the day of judgment, Jesus spoke of those who expected to inherit the kingdom of heaven, standing on their good works, which included casting out demons, prophesying and performing miracles in his name, to which he said, “I never knew you.” They missed the point. They had not done the Father’s will which is that His children love others as themselves. It’s the narrow gate (Matthew 7). It’s hard to do. It’s hard for everybody. It’s hard for us. That’s why God continually makes it an issue. It is something we grow into, a transformational process in renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).

Paul said there were those who preached the gospel out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1), and to purposely hinder his own work. But he went on to say he was delighted that Christ was preached even though it was done in pretense, not sincerely. That is a perfect illustration of how we ought to love. He exposed the false teachers without bad-mouthing them, but rejoiced that Christ was preached, that the gospel was an issue regardless of the messenger’s motivation. Jesus will judge the false prophets in the end. He wants us to identify them so we aren’t drawn into deception, yet not be condemning. The goodness of God leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We will join the Lord in judgment at the last day, but that time is not now. He came, and we are here today, to minister reconciliation to the world. We are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. God does the heavy lifting.

The Colossians were exhorted to be fruitful in every good work (1:10). We do good work because we’re fruitful, because we love the world the way God does. We don’t do good work in order to be fruitful. Good work is the demonstration of fruitfulness. If I give away all I have to feed the poor, it doesn’t mean a thing if love is not the motivator (1 Corinthians 13). James said our works are a product of faith, evidence of good fruit. He said that wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits….that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18). We are peacemakers. It’s about the way we treat people.

At the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve fell from their first estate, they were separated from God in a way they had not been previously, and the tree of life was made inaccessible to them and, as a result, to us as well. At the end of time, in the new Jerusalem, we find the tree of life accessible to man again (Revelation 22). It bears a different fruit each month. There is a lot of conjecture about what those fruits are, but we’re also told that the leaves are for healing the nations. On any bush or tree, leaves are the initial part of the fruit-producing process. They might be like herbs with medicinal qualities. Who knows? What we do know is that they have healing properties.

Since there is no sickness and death in the new creation, those leaves could be more preventive than curative. Esa says she gets healed when she holds a baby. She doesn’t mean that the baby cures her sickness but that there’s something deep down in her soul that responds wondrously to the innocence of a newborn. The baby does nothing but be a baby, just being its pure self. It’s not conscious of sin. It’s totally dependent on its mother. In the same way, we are totally dependent on Jesus without whom we can do nothing. In the end, it’s not about fruitfulness. It’s about abiding. We don’t grow the fruit. The fruit springs forth on its own. It’s effortless, mysterious, and marvelous.

 

 

January 1, 2021

Easy Steps to Being an Unloving Person in the New Year

Nobody sets out to be an unloving person, but if you know how it’s done, then you know what to avoid, right?

I want to take a different look at I Corinthians 13, aka ‘The Love Chapter.’

I know what you’re thinking. Can’t we do something a little deeper? Or look at a passage we haven’t heard hundreds of times? Well, hear me out.

But first a diversion. Did you know the word love doesn’t appear in this chapter in the KJV? I found this out the hard way trying to demonstrate to a pastor how a Bible concordance works. (The fact that I was not a pastor and he was, yet he had never seen a concordance speaks volumes to the type of Biblical education he received; but alas, time doesn’t permit me to share that story.) Anyway, I randomly selected “Love is patient” as my demonstration point but Strong didn’t include that because the KJV uses the word charity instead. So if “love is patient, love is kind” sounds old to you, remember it’s not that old.

The chapter begins,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

So you’re thinking, if we want to know what it means to be unloving, we just take each descriptor and frame it in the negative. So, “love is patient, love is kind” becomes ‘un-love is impatient, un-love is unkind.’ (And it would get easier, since many of the traits are stated in the negative, so you would just drop the “not.”)

That would make for a simple exercise, and I was in a church study where we did that as an exercise; but keeping the above verse in mind, let’s go adjective-by-adjective but drill down deeper.

STEP ONE: The person without love would need to crave instant gratification, in other words, no room for delayed gratification. In the tech revolution of the 1950s (don’t look it up, there really wasn’t one) the talk was that in the future, everything would be yours at the push of a button; at the flick of a switch. As a more congested transport system leaves us waiting for what seems (but isn’t) forever to board a train, or for a traffic light to change; and as we desire faster download times for internet content, we reflect our hunger for getting everything NOW. Paul taught the Romans that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4)

STEP TWO: The person without love would need to have a lack of empathy. You never know kindness until you’ve been shown kindness; and you never know the absence of kindness until you’ve had to experience it, but without empathy, you can’t connect the dots between what you’ve felt and what you’re doing or saying feels like to someone else. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

STEP THREE: This one is central. To not be the person of love Paul is describing to the Corinthians you have to be guilty of constant comparison. Some Bible expositors go so far as to speak of “the sin of comparison.” And I don’t need to give you the reference to remind us all that the 10th commandment is “do not covet which is applied equally to your neighbor’s (marital, in this case) situation, as well as your neighbor’s possessions.

STEP FOUR: Not being boastful begins by not being self promoting. This is critical in our present times, because social media somewhat implores us to put our best face forward on social media. (And tools like Photoshop allow us to edit how that face looks!) We are now even able to quantify our popularity by counting likes or followers.  Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” (Jeremiah 9:23)

STEP FIVE: I’ll keep this one really brief since I’ve written about passages such as Philippians 2 so many times here. You would need to have a complete absence of humility. Pride isn’t the issue here, pride is more of a manifestation (or symptom) of a larger problem. Rather, the overarching need for humility is part of a lifestyle that needs to cultivated. Jesus did not see his equality with God as something to be leveraged but chose the path of humility and the role of a servant. (My own take on Phil. 2) “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

Let’s look at the next verse:

It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

STEP SIX: The unloving person would have no problem committing defamation of character. You could be absolutely right about someone, but still dishonor them by not keeping silent. Or you could be exacting revenge against someone and seek to destroy their character for that reason. Or you may just have a callous disregard for others. Romans 12:10 reads, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The setup for the often quoted Philippians 2 passage begins “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (The CEB offers a gender-neutral expression for brotherly love: “Love each other like the members of your family.”)

STEP SEVEN: Because the previous already covered not boasting and not being proud, when we reach not self-seeking it may seem almost redundant. Could we say the unloving person is status-seeking? Or are they all about building their own empire? I would argue that with some it’s actually lacking transparency. We could also say they have a hidden agenda. They are perceived to be outwardly doing something altruistic, but like a skillful chess player, what outwardly appears a seemingly sacrificial move is coldly calculated to be of personal benefit. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

STEP EIGHT: The unloving person would undoubtedly be prone to knee-jerk reactions. And when have we ever seen this more than in the political climate of 2020? “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19

STEP NINE: An unloving acquaintance hangs on to hurts. They’re making a list and checking it twice, and going to remember how many times you’ve stepped on their toes or damaged their feelings. Being forgetful can be a human failing. But it’s also a divine attribute. If we want to be God-like we need to learn how to forget! “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” – Jeremiah 31:34b

The final verse of this micro-passage ends

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

STEP TEN: I wanted to combine these into a single step to bring the list to ten items. Ten items to avoid. The final one, in being an unloving person, you’d probably be seen a troublemaker. The person who delights in evil has their values turned upside-down and is glorifying wickedness instead of righteousness. Isaiah 5:20 nails this possibility: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” This verse wouldn’t be in our scriptures unless people had done this in Isaiah’s time; unless it were possible for us to be equally value-shifted.

None of these things are outside the realm of possibility. It’s easy to think of people we have known who were self-aggrandizing, deceitful, over-reactive, or just plain troublemakers. But it’s also not impossible to remember times in our own lives where we entered into those categories, or at least skated dangerously close.

In the new year, we want to be loving not unloving.

With God’s help, we can do this.



■ This isn’t the first time we’ve had a backwards approach to I Corinthians 13. Check out, from March, 2016, A Personal Character Checklist.

■ Paul does as much himself — telling us what not love looks like — in the setup to the verses we examined. From January, 2014 check out Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ.

Remembering that the whole Love Chapter is sandwiched between two chapters discussing spiritual gifts; from the 2nd of those articles:

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal…

December 29, 2020

Leaving Behind Shallowness, Fear, Self-Centeredness

In yesterday’s thoughts here we quoted from a source which was new to us. Daisy Logan is from London and writes devotions and book reviews at Walking With My Savior. This article appeared in August. Click the title below to read this on her site.

The Faith-Hope-Love Cure

Do you find it hard (or even impossible) to be spirit-filled when things are going terribly wrong and everything we see on television, read in books and even hear from good friends points us toward skepticism, bitterness and self-absorption?

Yes, times have changed.  We need a paradigm shift.

THE NEED FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

All our specific struggles can be traced back to one of these:

  1. Shallowness
  2. Fear, anxiety, and shame
  3. Self-centeredness

Breaking free from the grip of these three mega-patterns involves transferring our spiritual energy away from fixing our failures and toward our divine calling and destiny: resting in the heart of God through participation in his divine life. 

The spiritual journey would be:

  1. Shallowness to living faith by a healing of our intellect 
  2. Fear, anxiety, and shame to living hope by a healing of our memory 
  3. Self-centeredness to living love by a healing of our will

So now, I am inviting you to confront your self-limiting and self-destructive patterns and contrast them to the patterns of spirit-filled people who have come to live out their faith, hope and love.

Faith by which we freely commit our entire lives to God, who invites us to believe in Him by stirring our hearts in various ways. Faith is a decision of the will to believe, real faith is not blind. Faith heals our intellect. Study Hebrews 11:1 and Ephesians 6:16.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
– Hebrews 11:1 NIV

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
 – Ephesians 6:16 ESV

Hope by which we desire and count on the blessings of God in our lives, no matter the trial of the moment. The hopeful person has an eminently positive perspective on life because we know that an all-loving and all-powerful God is by our side, and in control – if we decide to let him be God for us. Hope, heals our memory and allows us to move forward in confidence, despite our remembering our own many failings of the past, and how others have failed us in the past because we know that God is all-powerful, all-loving and will be faithful to his promises. Study Hebrews 10:23 and Romans 12:12.

We must hold tightly to the hope we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us.
– Hebrews 10:23 CEV

rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
 – Romans 12:12 NASB

Love by which we give ourselves to God above all things and to our neighbours as ourselves. Study John 15;12-13 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Love heals our will by ordering our interests and actions toward giving ourselves to God and others, for their own sake.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
 – John 15:12,13 NIV

Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things. – I Cor. 13 HCSB

The healing of our mind, memory and will through the Divine Cure of faith, hope and love is not magical but it is MIRACULOUS.

So, let’s our start our journey from self-help to God’s help by specifying where and how we need to let go and let GOD work in us. For the Divine Cure to take root in our hearts and in our daily lives, we have to show God that we want HIM to act.

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